Act II for Gophers: improve

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2012 - 1:55 PM

Jerry Kill's Gophers debut ended with a 3-9 record and momentum. In Year 2, he'll try to repeat a successful pattern.

When the Gophers defense, his defense, finally came together last November, finally played with the speed and intensity and especially the physicality that he had been looking for all season, when it embarrassed Illinois so badly that the bowl-bound Illini couldn't even cross midfield until they trailed by 27 points, well, Tracy Claeys' reacted in a surprising way to his moment of triumph.

Good, the Gophers defensive coordinator recalls thinking. Glad it's over.

Wait, that's it? Didn't he wish the season could last another few games, that he could savor the accomplishment of that 27-7 victory and try to inflict that same swarming fury on another victim or two?

"Aw, hell no. I wanted to get back to work," Claeys said of that 3-9 season. "You're happy for the kids, especially the seniors. But we saw how much work we had left to do, recruiting, teaching, [working in the] weight room, and you just want to get going. Now you know what we need to do to make Year Two better."

And Year 2 always is better in Jerry Kill's world.

The Gophers begin their second season with Kill and his coaching staff in charge tonight in Las Vegas, and in many ways, it's a typical opener for this program. There is a certain amount of optimism around the Twin Cities, a you-never-know feeling that maybe the Gophers' luck has changed. And there's the usual number of reasons to doubt, the skeptics who say there's not enough talent, not enough experience, not enough luck in the world to make Minnesota a member of the Big Ten's middle class, much less the elite.

But it's Year 2, too, and the Gophers are banking on a trend: In Kill's four previous head-coaching stops, his teams always have shown evident, even substantial, progress once he learns his way around. And it's not, his staff says, a coincidence.

"The thing about Year 2 is, we've always been very realistic about what we'll be able to use as our strengths and what needs to change, even about ourselves and how we coach," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "You don't come in and say, this is how we do it, period. We say, what works well here? What can we build upon, not just for one year but for the program?"

More talent, depth

This year's team features a quarterback with renewed confidence and evident improvement. MarQueis Gray said he learned so much from 2011, when he closed the season with his best game yet, he is a different quarterback than the semi-novice who completed only half of his passes a year ago.

It also has a deep, experienced offensive line, and a revamped secondary that has Kill excited.

"Probably the thing that stands out with us defensively is our speed," said the coach, who moved some of his best young cornerbacks to safety in order to add that quickness. "Our speed on defense is better and our physical size is better."

And it's a much closer, more motivated team.

"I feel a lot more chemistry, a lot more calmness around the program. We're a bigger family," Gray said. "Everyone just letting loose and interacting with each other outside their own race and background -- that's something we haven't had here since I've been here."

Added Limegrover: "Our offense and defense are interacting more. There's a real feeling of, we all have the same 'M' on our helmet. Even the coaches were guilty of [not feeling that] last year. I didn't know any of the defensive kids. I've made it a point, all fall camp, I say hello to those kids and give them encouragement. They see that, and they see we're a real team now."

They found similar second-year advantages at Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, where Kill's teams went a combined 18-27 in his first year at each school, and 24-22 in his second.

It's that knowledge, that track record, that made last year's 3-9 season bearable, Limegrover said. They didn't enjoy being upset by North Dakota State, or embarrassed by Michigan, or shellacked by Wisconsin. But just as the Gophers' young offensive linemen now benefit from being forced into action prematurely by a rash of injuries last fall, the people in charge of the team got an education about what does and doesn't work, too. And that, Limegrover hopes, has a payoff, too.

"You have to have a year like last year. You've got to learn the good and the bad of the kids and the program and the facilities and the auxiliary staff, because all of those things are necessary to have success," Limegrover said. "That doesn't happen right away. Last year was a necessary evil to get us going in the right direction."

Fans patient, so far

Gophers fans seem willing to endure the evil and accept the necessary. Though ticket sales have been slow, the marketing department has noticed a sanguine spirit among Minnesota alums. Jerry Kill might be the most popular 3-9 coach in the country, for the counterintuitive reason that he doesn't promise Buckeye-like success.

"There is a renewed enthusiasm among the boosters. There is a buzz that you haven't felt around the program since the fast start" in 2008, when the Gophers won seven of their first eight games before losing their final five, said Dan Domagala, a Goalline Club member who helped brainstorm the university's advertising campaign. "He doesn't say we're going to win every game and go to the Rose Bowl. But he gives you the feeling that he has a plan, that he knows how to implement it, and that it works."

It needs to about now, especially in the sort of games that are scheduled with certain victory in mind. As much buzz as the hardcore fans may feel, the wait-and-see majority in Minnesota will tune out in a hurry if the Gophers don't handle UNLV tonight, or are upset by New Hampshire nine days later. The Gophers had similar optimism in 2010 after a good-not-great season-opening victory at Middle Tennessee State, then faced an outpouring of scorn when they followed up with convincing losses to South Dakota and, coincidentally, Kill's Northern Illinois team. Only seven games into that season, the atmosphere had grown so bad, coach Tim Brewster was replaced.

Kill isn't in that situation, but he realizes that pressure rises incrementally.

"We're building a program, and this is our second year with one recruiting class, and so you know, we're trying to take the next step forward," he said. "I've compared it a lot to Southern Illinois, being there the first year and where we're at. And right now, we've got some good kids that have been a joy to work with. They've worked hard. They've done what we've asked them to do."

All but one thing: Win. Maybe Year 2 will be different.

  • related content

  • Gophers at UNLV: The Call

    Wednesday August 29, 2012

    It's a basketball school. The Rebels play football, too, but not well; their last winning season was 2000. They have six two-win seasons in the past eight years.

  • Video: What to expect when Gophers open against UNLV

    Wednesday August 29, 2012

    What's at stake for Minnesota's opener against UNLV on Thursday night? Will a running back emerge to take the...

  • CBS Sports Network? Where do I find it?

    Thursday August 30, 2012

    The Gophers vs. UNLV game is at 10 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. A spokesperson said it is available on several cable and satellite packages locally on the following...

  • Chart: Gophers-UNLV number to know

    Wednesday August 29, 2012

    2-11

  • Chart: Gophers, UNLV schedules

    Wednesday August 29, 2012

    GOPHERS

  • Poll: How will the Gophers do against UNLV?

    Friday August 31, 2012

  • Minnesota's James Gillum (21) scores in the second quarter against UNLV.

  • At each of his four previous head-coaching jobs, Jerry Kill saw his team improve its record in his second season. Will it happen with the Gophers?

  • 2012 SEASON OPENER GOPHERS AT UNLV • 10 p.m. today • TV: CBS Sports Network (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 6:00 PM
Orlando
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Brooklyn 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Washington 6:30 PM
Miami
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:30 PM
Detroit
Chicago 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
Denver
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Ottawa
NY Islanders 6:30 PM
Detroit
Boston 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Dallas 8:00 PM
Calgary
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 5:00 PM
Radford
Stillman 6:00 PM
Alabama
Case Western Reserve 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Niagara 6:00 PM
Buffalo
SD Christian 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Concordia (MI) 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Kent State
Central Penn College 6:00 PM
Liberty
Bethune-Cookman 6:00 PM
Mercer
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Morehead State
Northern Ariz 6:00 PM
Norfolk State
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
St Johns
Clemson 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Washington-MD 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Furman 6:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
South Dakota St 6:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Milligan 7:00 PM
Lamar
LSU-Alexandria 7:00 PM
ULM
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Chattanooga 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Seattle 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Princeton
Winthrop 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Dickinson State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
New Orleans 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
Creighton
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Denver
Alabama A&M 8:00 PM
Marquette
Ark-Pine Bluff 8:00 PM
Texas Tech
Eastern Wash 9:00 PM
California
Idaho State 9:05 PM
Utah State
Arizona 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 10:59 PM
Chaminade
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 31 2nd Half 9:51
Bethune-Cookman 23
Albany 23 1st Half 0:30
Pepperdine 18
TX-San Antonio 21 1st Half 1:27
Houston 27
Yale 6 1st Half 14:44
Bucknell 11
Northern Colorado 4 1st Half 14:46
Fla Gulf Coast 10
Belmont 4:00 PM
Mercer
Massachusetts 4:00 PM
Georgia State
George Mason 4:05 PM
Winthrop
Portland State 4:30 PM
Princeton
UCLA 5:00 PM
Samford
Mobile 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Nicholls 5:30 PM
Texas Tech
Toledo 5:30 PM
Nevada
UMass Lowell 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
Virginia
McNeese State 6:00 PM
Rice
McMurry 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
NJIT 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
(6) North Carolina 6:00 PM
Maine
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Siena 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Longwood 6:00 PM
Clemson
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Florida State
(19) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
La Salle
Canisius 6:00 PM
Michigan
Davidson 6:00 PM
NC State
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Delaware
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Austin Peay
(25) DePaul 6:30 PM
(2) Connecticut
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Tulane
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
Memphis
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UAB
Bowling Green 7:05 PM
Illinois State
Arkansas State 7:05 PM
Missouri State
ULM 7:05 PM
Wichita State
(16) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Southern Ill
Utah Valley U 8:30 PM
Montana
Pacific 9:00 PM
New Mexico St
No Dakota State 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Utah State 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Bethesda (CA) 9:00 PM
Fresno State
LSU 9:30 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close